On April 26th, Princeton AlumniCorps welcomed more than 30 guests to its inaugural Turning Point panel entitled “From Princeton to Prison to Purpose: The Story of Walter Fortson, Jim Farrin ’58, Natasha Japanwala ’14 and the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program.” Turning Point, a Community Volunteers initiative, brings together speakers with inspiring stories about what drives their passion for service. Each panel highlights a specific issue or need in the community.
Walter Fortson discussed his incarceration in a New Jersey state prison, and what sparked his desire to turn his life around. Rutgers University Professor Donald Roden started a program to help inmates enroll as university students and took an interest in Walter. “That was the first time in a long time that anybody had looked at me as a human being,” Walter said. “The compassion in his eyes for me really let me know that I had a second chance. That’s something I [will] never forget.”
Since his release, Walter has been admitted to Rutgers University, where he received the 2010 Rutgers Academic Excellence award, and was recently named a Truman Scholar. He has dedicated himself not only to improving his life, but also to helping others in similar situations turn their lives around.
Charlie Puttkammer ’58 founded the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program which is dedicated to bringing Princeton students and community members to local prisons to tutor inmates. Charlie reached out to his classmate, Jim Farrin ‘58, to help run the program. While Jim was hesitant at first, a fortuitous encounter between his wife and a prison chaplain at Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility made Jim realize this was an opportunity to give back in a very significant way. Jim met with Al Kandell, Administrator at A.C. Wagner. Jim recalls Al saying to him, “We need Princeton volunteers, and I can tell by looking at you, Jim, that you’re going to bring them.”
The next fall, volunteers from Princeton University began tutoring at the prison. Of the volunteers he has worked with, Jim said, “These young Princeton students… have such a wonderful sense of mission.” Now, as Jim looks to expand the Petey Greene Program to other universities and prisons, he and Walter have teamed up to start a program at Rutgers. AlumniCorps is seeking a community volunteer to help with this expansion plan.
Natasha Japanwala ’14 is a current volunteer with the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance program. She discussed her experience as a tutor with the program, as well as leading a Breakout Princeton trip to a women’s correctional facility in Oklahoma. “I feel like every time I go to a prison, I help someone in a small way,” Natasha said. “And to be very honest, I think they help me more than I help them. . . It’s been such a huge part of my education.”
For more information on the Community Volunteers program and to see current opportunities, please visit the program website at www.alumnicorps.org, or contact Rachel Benevento, Community Volunteers Program Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for our next Turning Points program in the early Fall.